January 31, 2016

Fixing Easter

There is a move afoot in some ecumenical circles to find a common date for the observance of Easter. I won't go into the calendrical problems here — you can read about it on Wikipedia — but some churches follow the archaic Julian calendar, while others accept the Gregorian revision that brings the astronomical year into better sync. This leads to Easter being celebrated on different days by different Christian traditions. (There are also some splinter groups who don’t like either of these solutions, which further complicates things.)

Beyond that, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has suggested that not just a common date, but a fixed date, would be even better; which is to say, for instance, that Easter might always fall on the second Sunday in April. He has argued that this would be ever so much more rational and helpful for the business world and for the schools. He may be singing the lost number from My Fair Lady, “Why can't Easter be more like Michaelmas?” — but he also seems to me to be upending a longstanding tradition primarily so as to make the merchants more comfortable in the Temple precincts. Such a move might be more rational for the schools and banks, but, to paraphrase Jane Austen, "it would not be near so much like Easter."

While I certainly support the effort to settle on the calendar, Julian or Gregorian, to find a common date for the observance for Easter, I think in fixing a date we would miss something literally cosmic about the traditional dance of the sun and moon and earth that governs the commemoration.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Thought on Today's Gospel (Luke 4:21-30)

With regard to The Episcopal Church, the Primates of the Anglican Communion appear to have taken as their text, "...shut up for three years."

I would rather focus on the truth that the power of the Holy Spirit often lights on those who minister among the outcasts, poor and untouchable, of Sidon and Damascus. Prophetic words — which simply means “true words” — are not always welcome among the family, and those who utter them are sometimes dismissed from the table (or threatened with being thrown from a cliff) by those who do not wish to hear that God’s mysterious work takes place even where, perhaps especially where, it is unexpected and unlooked for.

So it has been, so it is now, so it will be: the water flows in the desert, and those who thirst find relief, while the proud will not stoop to the spring.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 24, 2016

Church Management

The leadership of the Church of England, and by extension (since the majority are relatively recent products of English missionary efforts) many of the Primates of the Anglican Communion seem to have taken a managerial approach to the development of doctrine and polity within Anglicanism. One might observe this is better than the almost impossibilist approach of the Eastern Church or the heavily top-down of the Roman, but in recent years these leaders seem to have taken their cue more from those directions than from the more traditionally Anglican model of provincial autonomy to innovate and the process of reception over time.

This is not meant to give unqualified endorsement to the Gamaliel principle ("If it lasts, it is of God") if for no other reason than that things of God don't always last, and many things that are downright ungodly seem to endure very well! The danger in the "wait and see" approach lies in the fact that deferring action on what is later judged to have been unjust or immoral puts one in a bad light under that later judgment. C. S. Lewis long ago, in a children's book of all places, denounced the danger of taking a wait and see attitude in which, "The dwarves are for the dwarves." They end up unable to see, having refused to act.

Nor am I endorsing a free-for-all adoption of anything new because it is new. Both antiquarianism and novelty are poor guides to rightness. What I am suggesting is that rather than attempting to manage the process, the Primates and the members of the various Anglican churches allow the process of reception -- or rejection -- to take place over time. We are dealing, after all, not with a core doctrine of the faith, but a matter of marriage discipline -- and one far less troublesome than that of remarriage after divorce which the churches managed to gulp (with some discomfort) while gasping at the "bulk" of the recent gnat.

In the long run, the call to submit to such managerial policies runs counter to the history of how the church has worked over time. Almost exactly a decade ago (June 2006), I assembled the following "chain of events" that explores what might have happened had various parties given in to the putative authorities urging their submission. I don't think anything need be added:

  • The General Convention should have listened to the clear directions of the Primates and repented and repudiated all that had been done to offend.
  • The Episcopal Church should have ignored the tradition of national church polity and remained as a missionary arm of the Church of England even after the Revolution.
  • The Church of England should have listened to the pope and never separated from Rome.
  • The Eastern Orthodox should have done the same and submitted to Rome so as not to sever communion.
  • The martyrs should have followed Saint Paul’s advice to obey those in civil authority.
  • Saint Paul, in the interest of not tearing the fabric of the early church, should have acceded to the circumcision party instead of trusting to his own private interpretation of Scripture.
  • The Jerusalem Council should have ignored the anecdotal evidence of Paul and Barnabas — which could only serve to make Law-abiding Jewish converts uneasy.
  • Saul should have ignored his personal “experience” on the road to Damascus and followed his orders from the Sanhedrin.
  • The other apostles should have ignored Peter’s “dream” and stuck to the letter of the Law.
  • Jesus should have heeded Peter’s advice and turned back from Jerusalem.
  • He might also have considered more seriously the various options presented to him in the Wilderness Report.
  • Joseph should have ignored the “personal revelation” he received — again in a dream, no less — and acted in accordance with the Law, and when he found Mary to be with child by someone other than himself, had her stoned to death, and her unborn child with her.
  • Then we wouldn’t be having all these problems with the Anglican Communion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 21, 2016

Me and My House

Were I a conciliar Christian, I would no doubt belong to a church that recognized conciliarism as part of its essence — as in the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox traditions. If I wanted to be part of a confessional church, I would join one of those that had a formal confession, such as that of Augsburg or Westminster. But as it is, I am an Anglican. As such I reject the notion that councils can be trusted always to be right in matters even of faith; and accept that confessions are basically just the work of relatively recent councils (or conventicles), and are just as prone to error, as well as being much too much concerned over controversies that later turn out to have been of no lasting importance.

As I say, I'm an Anglican — of the Episcopal sort — a "creedal Christian" if you want to give it a name. I'm happy to read the confessions and reflect on the decisions of councils, but am not hard pressed to adopt either. The doctrinal minimalism of the Anglican tradition — what C. S. Lewis called "mere Christianity" — suits my temperament. I'm able to recite the doctrine of the church every Sunday morning, in the words of the Nicene Creed. (Yes, I realize that was the work of two, count 'em, two Councils. But, as my mother said in her last words on this earth, "That's enough.")

So I'm puzzled by the efforts of some to drag Anglicans into some other form of either conciliar or confessional church. The ones that exist along those lines seem to do quite well, and I think we Anglicans will lose something of value if we seek to become more like one or the other. I had rather we continue as a somewhat rambunctious and not always agreeable family of interrelated national or provincial churches with a common heritage balanced by the freedom for considerable local adaptation. Oh, and the Gospel at the heart.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 19, 2016

The Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politicks

So what have we? On the one hand we have a body, founded in 1789 and in continuous existence since, with duly elected members called and assembled, which by its constitutional authority and in keeping with its governing law has adopted a policy which concerns no entity other than itself.

On the other hand we have a group, first assembled in 1978, meeting sporadically since, this time 'round in an irregularly convened ad hoc session; with at least one voting member improperly credentialed; having no constitutional authority whatsoever; described as recently as 2004 in The Windsor Report (¶ 104) as having until then "refused to acknowledge anything more than a  consultative and advisory authority" for itself — now presuming an enhanced capacity to deem the imposition of consequences upon the aforementioned body over whom they have no authority, because of their policy change.

This must be what some people mean by "Godly order." Seems relatively ungodly to me, and far from orderly. If this were the political realm, I'd call the latter a junta and their action an attempted coup.

As it is, their advice must be taken simply for what it is worth, as we in that first body continue to preach and practice the Good News. (The One who started it all also got into trouble with a hastily gathered assembly...)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Addendusm: I was asked how much of a majority it takes to make such decisions. A very high standard is necessary when individual rights are being restrained or removed; the maxim "quod omnes tangit ab omnibus approbetur" ("what concerns all must be approved by all") cited (though almost completely misunderstood) in The Windsor Report, essentially requires universal consent, or at the very least the consent of the ones "touched" by the decision. Since this is the nature of issues raised in the recent Primates' Meeting, it would seem that a reported less than unanimous decision falls short.


January 17, 2016

Limited Grace?

The recent actions of the Primates of the Anglican Communion — or at least a majority of them —have led to a good bit of discussion around the web. I will likely say more on that later. But for the moment, what strikes is how much they seem to have missed a truly evangelical moment. I understand they are exercised about homosexuality and think it is terrible. But clearly it is no more terrible, from a biblical standpoint, than fornication, whether that is understood narrowly as sex between parties who have no intention to marry (I think the soundest biblical reading) or more broadly as any kind of sexual immorality (a very subjective reading).

However, if we are to accept the Apostle's teaching (1 Cor 7:1-2, enshrined in Anglican formularies from 1549 on, though soft-pedaled lately) that marriage is a remedy for the sin of fornication, then the embrace of marital discipline of fidelity and permanence by same-sex couples ought rightly to be seen and celebrated as a "remedy" for any sin involved in same-sex sex, just as mixed-sex marriage is the remedy for the sin in unmarried mixed-sex sex.

This ought to be received as revolutionary as the saving grace to the Gentiles (Acts 11:18) when the early church set aside the biblical requirement of circumcision.

I understand that those who follow natural law arguments will place same-sex sex in the categorically irredeemable column, as intrinsically wrong in all circumstances. But if it is the circumstantial presence or lack of marital status that renders sex good or bad for heterosexual people, it does seem a bit perverse to hold that gay and lesbian couples cannot frame their lives as suits their condition, and sanctify their loves by the grace of God, a grace we have been told can do more than we can ask or imagine.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 10, 2016

The Knot

The knot that perplexes the Anglican Communion (and the world) — the tangle of culture, sex, law, theology and sexuality — will not be undone by gently plucking at this raveled end or tugging that tight loop; this Gordian knot will only be untied through the bold and rigorous application of the sword of the Golden Rule. Only when each has radically embraced and experienced the life of the other — as God did for humanity in the Incarnation — can we end the ceaseless pulling to and fro that tightens the knot of our discontents, instead of blessing us with the freedom that only comes through love.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

January 8, 2016

A Thought about how we pray to God

One of the great divides in religion is between those who see God as Love and those who see God as Power. How many of our Anglican prayers address God as Almighty, Omnipotent, "of Power and Might" -- and how many as, "Loving" or "Giving" -- in spite of the fact that the Gospels show us God as Love, sacrificial and self-giving love; these same texts warn us against power over each other instead of love for each other, and bid us ask for daily bread and forgiveness as we would of a loving Parent rather than as petitioners to a Monarch? (It is true, of course, that the Gospels also portray God as King and Judge, but why is that so much reflected in our liturgy as opposed to God as Shepherd or Healer or Gift?)

It strikes me that the various Christian churches, and subdivisions within the whole church, seem to model different reflections of God -- the God who is Love vs. the God who is King. If we are to place ourselves in God's place, what we think of God will reflect how we act towards one another and the world. Jesus warned us not to seek to rule over one another. I hope the Primates Gathering next week takes this to heart.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG